CHICAGO — The topic is Taylor Martinez. Two experts I found in downtown Chicago tried to put the Nebraska quarterback in perspective. “I can't remember the last true four-year starter at quarterback at Nebraska,” Eric Crouch said. “Has there ever been one?”
“Steve Taylor came in during the middle of his freshman year,” Matt Davison said. “Turner Gill played as a sophomore. Tommie Frazier didn't start until after a few games his freshman year. I think Taylor might be the first.”
Martinez came to NU in 2009. That's how long it's been. Bo Pelini's second year. Zac Lee was the starter. Martinez was on the scout team. On the other side of the ball was Ndamukong Suh.
He started the 2010 opener. Nobody knew much about the Cali kid. He was fast. He turned the corner in Seattle and took everyone's breath. Man, he was fast.
He would wear so many hats. Heisman candidate. Shy kid. Bum. Brat. The cellphone thing at Texas A&M. The injuries. The brushoffs with the media. The awkward passer. The reluctant star.
It's hard to grow up in the fish bowl and perhaps even harder for everyone to understand when the quotes come in bytes and the window of a quarterback's mind and heart comes with curtains.
So here was Martinez on Wednesday, at Big Ten media days, his senior media day. It took place at the historic Chicago Hilton, in a ballroom where the movie “The Fugitive” was filmed.
Kind of fitting. Martinez, in a way, has been a fugitive, eluding Nebraska media and a fan base wanting to embrace him.
Well, he showed up on Wednesday in a stylish charcoal suit, looking professional, looking like the man. Looking for the world like another senior quarterback from 12 years ago.
Kid named Crouch.
Back in 2001, Crouch showed up at Big 12 media days in Kansas City wearing a power suit, which was the fashion statement of a senior quarterback ready to stake his territory.
“There's a lot of expectations,” Crouch said Wednesday. “You're thinking, 'This is my year. Last chance. Sense of urgency.' ”
I remember reading that between the lines of Crouch's quotes and body language 12 years ago. Here in 2013, I wondered if I would see it again in Martinez.
It's not just his last year and last call for a championship. There's so much pressure on this offense to carry the weight this season. So much on Martinez to rise up and be even more of a leader, playmaker and winner. Is he up for that?
It wasn't in what he said. The headlines were few.
Martinez said this is the best he's felt since his freshman year. He's worked twice as hard this summer as any in the past. Fundamentals. Footwork.
He said this will be one of the best offensive lines NU has ever had. If they don't turn it over, this will be the best offense in the country.
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Goals? All-Big Ten? Heisman?
“I just want to win,” Martinez said. “Everything else will fall into place.”
How would he like to be remembered?
“As having a lot of heart. And I never gave up.”
I asked him about celebrity. That part of the job hasn't always agreed with Martinez. That's not a crime. The fish bowl isn't for everyone. But if you're expected to make plays on the big Saturday stage, then this is an area you must negotiate.
Martinez has done it, slowly. Back in early June, Martinez was on my family's flight back to Omaha from California. The entire plane buzzed — including my three daughters — as No. 3 walked on.
Most people left Martinez alone, but when he was approached, he was cordial and polite.
Just like the time recently when Martinez went shopping at the mall in Lincoln and ended up signing autographs for well over an hour.
“I don't go out much,” Martinez said. “But when I do, I expect that to happen. I have fun with it.”
Fun. Funny. Martinez was doing an interview with Omaha sports talk show hosts John Bishop and Mike'l Severe on Wednesday. They asked if he purposely gave short answers so he wouldn't have to deal with the media.
“No, not really,” Martinez said. Short pause. They all laughed.
This won't beat Michigan in November. But it can't hurt. The best players — quarterbacks — at Nebraska have all found a way to become comfortable in their own skin.
Maybe it helps that the spotlight outside of Lincoln isn't quite so bright.
As they enter year three of the Big Ten Adventure, the Huskers are an afterthought at these meetings. The Ohio State meetings.
NU may have had a chip on its shoulder in the Big 12, but the Big Red's arrival at the league media days was always a big deal. Here in the Big Ten, folks aren't as impressed with Nebraska as they were three years ago.
The stains of 70-31 aren't washed in one offseason. Those stains are on Martinez, too, even though he may have had his career highlight run in that Big Ten championship game. Anyone remember that?
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The storyline here is that Nebraska is not ready for prime time yet, and Martinez and Co. will surely get in their own way again.
How else do you explain NU, with a four-year starter at quarterback, getting picked below Michigan, whose quarterback has had a handful of starts?
“That's the media,” Martinez said, before cutting off his next statement.
Martinez and the Under the Radar Gang can change the script and their reputation, write their own legacy. Martinez won't talk about legacy. But you know he knows the score: He'll be remembered for how much he won. Or lost.
Twelve years from now, he'll be looking back in satisfaction, or still griping about the ones that got away. Like a couple of other old guys.
Crouch, now an analyst with the Big Ten Network, talked about a goal-line play in the third quarter of the 62-36 loss to Colorado that he insists would have changed the game.
Davison, the radio analyst for the Husker Network, lamented NU's inability to adjust to a simple counter play in that game.
On and on they went. There seemed to be a message in there for Martinez: Take advantage of everything this season. This is it.
“He's got to cut down on the turnovers,” Davison said. “If he throws eight or nine picks, with as much as we pass, that won't hurt us. It's the fumbles.”
“I expect (Martinez) to throw the ball a lot, but I wish they would run him more,” said Crouch, the running quarterback. “He's so dangerous when he runs. He doesn't need to go out of bounds.
“I will say this: He's got a receiving corps. Man, does he have a good receiving corps.”
And then Crouch looked at Davison with a wry smile.
“Man, that would have been nice.”
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